Step back in time at Ba-rock Music Festival


Tokyo’s Mejiro district will take a curious musical sidestep in time from May 30 to June 15 during the fourth staging of the Mejiro Ba-rock Music Festival.

“Ba-rock” is a coinage derived from baroque, a style of European music that flourished in the 17th and early 18th centuries.

“Our concept is to present the Mejiro area as a ‘place (ba in Japanese)’ where people with ‘rock’ spirits assemble,” explains Ichiro Tsutsui, who runs a design company in Mejiro and launched the festival featuring European baroque music.

“People who are attracted to such old music seem somehow strange, spiritual and radical, which I appreciate. I call them ‘rock’ people.

“Why baroque? Because I like baroque music, first of all,” says Tsutsui, who has been serving as the head of the festival committee since it started.

Tsutsui’s vision was soon shared by experienced music managers Hiroyuki Takeda and Motofumi Saito and was realized in 2005, when seven concerts were held by Japanese artists from their network, featuring early music from the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

According to Tsutsui, classical music, like Mozart or Beethoven, can be heard everywhere in Tokyo. But early music before baroque is less performed and scarcely known to Japanese people. “It is ‘new’ to listen to something we don’t know, even if it is old music,” says Tsutsui.

But don’t worry. Baroque music is composed of beautiful melodies and harmonies that are not difficult for general listeners to understand, compared to discords of contemporary music from the 20th century.

Located between Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, Mejiro is a residential area that has been spared the crowding of its business- and commercial-center neighbors.

Once arriving in the area, visitors are usually impressed by Mejiro’s unique atmosphere. Along Mejiro Street and the surrounding neighborhoods, there are a number of historic buildings, such as the Romanesque-style Mejiro Seikokai (Anglican Episcopal Church); St. Mary’s Cathedral, designed by Japanese architect Kenzo Tange; and the Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan School building, designated as an Important Cultural Property and designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Many of these buildings will be used as concert venues for the festival, along with other halls, which are all relatively small. “Baroque music might be a good match for these quiet buildings in Mejiro. It will be interesting for visitors, too.” Tsutsui says with a smile. Music performances during the Baroque Period (early 17th century) took place mainly in churches or private salons, where musicians and the audience were very close to each other.

Annually held with support from the local community, the Ba-rock festival is taking root in the Mejiro area.

This year, around 20 concerts and related events will be held, with Japanese musicians, such as baroque violinist Miki Takahashi, harpsichord player Takashi Watanabe, oud (a traditional Middle Eastern string instrument) player Yuji Tsunemi and the early-music ensembles Anthonello and Jongleur Bon Musicien.

Also featured are foreign artists, including Swedish recorder player Dan Laurin, Argentine vocalist-guitarist Adrian van der Spoel and Russian violinist Dmitry Badiarov.

One of the highlights will be J.S. Bach’s resonant choir music at St. Mary’s Cathedral on June 6, conducted by 30-year-old rising Dutch star Peter Dijkstra, a former soprano prodigy.

“We don’t invite established maestros, but try to introduce new or unknown talents,” says Tsutsui.

Dijkstra will make his Japanese debut as a conductor on June 3, collaborating with the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra at Bunkyo Civic Hall, which is a new project of the Ba-rock festival.

Most of the concert venues are an easy walk from JR Mejiro Station on the Yamanote Line.

Tickets vary in price from ¥3,000 to ¥6,000, and can be purchased from the Festival Ticket Center by calling (03) 3986-4888. For more details, call (03) 6273-8313 or visit the festival’s Web site at i-debut.org/ba-rock/